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San Diego Comic-Con 2011 preview: What you need to know

July 20 through July 24 is when geeks the world over travel to their mecca, San Diego Comic-Con. It's where fans go to see What's Next in pop culture, including movies, TV and, of course, comics. There's been talk about Hollywood pulling back from Comic-Con just a smudge, but there's still always about 5,000 things happening at once. Whether you're attending or not, here's a rundown of some of the notable events. (You can also follow along with me LIVE from Comic-Con Wednesday, July 20 through Sunday, July 24 on Twitter at @MikeRoe.)

Last year's photo gallery of the sights of Comic-Con

Thursday, July 21

10:45-11:45: Oh, You Sexy Geek!

Starting off the convention on an appropriately nerd-centric note, one of the earliest panels is taking a look at some recent furor over female geeks. There's been some debate about whether geek girls are expressing a passion for what they love or pandering to men, either for attention or for marketing. With 9 out of 10 of the panelists being women, I think you can see the point they're making, but if you want to see many of the Internet's most notable female geeks (and one male) discuss gender issues, you'll want to check this out.

11:15-12:15: The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1

As of this writing, fans are already lining up for the latest Twilight panel. Love it or hate it, it's certainly a cultural phenomenon. Comic-Con seems to recognize the furor around this movie and the chances that a lot of those Twilight fans won't be into a lot of the other stuff happening at Comic-Con, so this is the very first panel in Comic-Con's giant exhibit hall, Hall H. When it's done, Twihards who've had their fill can leave, exhausted from camping out to have any hope of getting in, to go have dreams of Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner.

11:30-12:30: DC: Flashpoint

DC Comics' current epic event is Flashpoint, with DC's famed heroes dealing with the effects of someone messing with their timeline. What makes this storyline a bit different is that it's leading up to a relaunch of DC Comics' whole line this September (more on that later), so fans will be clamoring for clues from the creators on how they're going to get there.

1:15-1:45: A One on One with Pee-Wee Herman

As someone who, as a child, looked up to Pee-Wee Herman (I was a weird kid), I'm a little excited for this. Pee-Wee will be promoting the 25th anniversary of Pee-Wee's Playhouse and talk about his HBO special coming to DVD. It's a late addition to the show, but they're giving him a big stage, putting him in Hall H.

3-4: Game of Thrones Panel and Q&A session

HBO's surprisingly successful Game of Thrones comes to Comic-Con in Ballroom 20, Hall H's evil brother where they put panels that are still super popular but in a room that's significantly smaller, creating lines that can wrap around the building and down to the coastline (literally). The show's stars will be there, with author George R.R. Martin, who wrote the books the series is based on, moderating.

5-6: Batman: Arkham City

The latest Batman video game is going to be previewed here. The last one was great, so I'm sure this will be fun, but the real highlight the last time around was Mark Hamill, and he's back again providing the voice of the Joker. Hamill, better known as Star Wars' Luke Skywalker, has provided the voice of the Joker in numerous media going back to the early '90s on the Batman animated series, and he's a crack-up live, flirting with fangirls and being more than willing to do the voice for the fans.

6-7: Entertainment Weekly: The Visionaries: A discussion with Jon Favreau and Guillermo del Toro on the Future of Pop Culture

The Swingers guy and the Pan's Labyrinth guy talk the FUTURE! These visionaries panels are fun; last year they did J.J. Abrams and Joss Whedon, and I'm not sure if that can be topped for geek cred, but it should be fun to hear them talk about their personal histories and how pop culture is going to change over the next decade.

Friday, July 22

10:15-11:15: The Captains

So, William Shatner's doing a panel. About Star Trek. Nerdgasm! He's promoting his new documentary, "The Captains," where he interviews everyone who's played a Star Trek captain before, including arm wrestling the new guy from the recent movie. It's also going to be moderated by director/raconteur Kevin Smith.

10:30-11:30: Locke & Key FOX Pilot Screening

If you can't make it into "The Captains," another hot ticket is this pilot which Fox opted not to pick up. It's based on a critically acclaimed comic, and the only official screening it's going to get is at Comic-Con, because Fox decided not to pick the show up. The word was that it looks great, but also looked expensive to do on a regular basis. So, see the show that could have been, and there's an also an encore screening at 9:15 p.m.

11-12: Paramount: The Adventures of Tin-Tin

Comic-Con is getting one of its biggest visits ever: Steven Spielberg. Whether or not you're interested in the upcoming CGI movie based on the popular foreign comic that doesn't have nearly the name recognition in the United States, it's a chance to see the guy who made E.T. You may need to start lining up right behind the Twilight fans if you want to get a seat, though.

11:15-12:15: The Walking Dead

AMC's hit zombie show, based on the hit zombie comic, is doing Comic-Con with the cast, comic writer Robert Kirkman and others. The panel even includes series creator Frank Darabont, best known for writing and directing "The Shawshank Redemption." They'll have footage from the second season, and probably a lot of fans dressed like zombies.

2-3: Green Lantern: The Animated Series Video Presentation and Q&A

Hot on the heels of the Green Lantern movie, hoping to become a franchise, there's a new animated series on the way. It doesn't come out until the fall of 2012, but you can see footage from it right here first.

4-6:30: Sony: Ghost Rider - Spirit of Vengeance, 30 Minutes or Less, Total Recall, and The Amazing Spider-Man

A little bit of the good, the bad and the ugly here. We've got a sequel to the largely panned Ghost Rider, a new comedy with a decent cast, a reboot of the Arnold Schwarzenegger sci-fi flick (classic?) and a reboot of the initially popular then off the rails Spider-Man franchise. Spider-Man's the headliner here, though a trailer's already leaked. (I'd link to it, but it would probably be gone by the time you read this.)

6-7: Batman: 45th Anniversary of the Original Series

Julie Newmar (Catwoman), Burt Ward (Robin), and Batman himself, Mr. Adam West, are doing a panel celebrating the 45th anniversary of the intentionally campy 1960s TV show. It's a unique opportunity to see these three together, and as a kid weaned on syndicated reruns of this show, I'm down. (I promise to only squeal quietly.)

8-10: World Premiere: Batman: Year One

The latest DC Comics direct to DVD animated movie, this one could be great, as it's based on one of the most critically acclaimed stories of all time, Batman: Year One. The writer of that original series was Frank Miller, also known for being the brains behind Sin City (and, uh, that Spirit movie; let's forget that). There's also another showing immediately afterward, so a couple chances to check this out.

Saturday, July 23

10-11: From Buddha to Batman: Deepak Chopra and Grant Morrison Discuss The Seven Spiritual Laws of Superheroes

I have to admit, when the Comic-Con schedule first came out, this is the panel that made me do a double take. "Wait, Deepak Chopra?!" Apparently, he has a new book out looking at this topic, and he'll be talking about it with Grant Morrison, a famed mindbending comic writer who worked his way up from independent books to writing Superman comics. Morrison also has a new book out, "Supergods," bringing a philosopher's eye to comic books and dealing with some similar concepts.

11:45-12:45: TWIXT: Francis Ford Coppola and Dan Deacon

Seeing the man behind "The Godfather" in person is another one of those unique Comic-Con opportunities. The panel also promises to involve the audience in some sort of dress rehearsal of his new film "TWIXT," so it should make for a bit of a spectacle.

2:45-3:45: Marvel: Cup O' Joe

This is the one time when Marvel's chief creative officer Joe Quesada goes before fans in the Marvel Comics equivalent of Parliament's Question Time, with fans able to ask whatever they want. These sessions can get testy, awkward, uncomfortable, but Quesada's known to be able to handle the audiences and also drops some information on what's coming in the future from Marvel.

5:45-7:30: An Early Evening with Kevin Smith

Director Kevin Smith throws down with fan Q&A in his annual panel. He's a raconteur who's fallen so in love with the sound of his own voice that he started a podcast network and online radio show that broadcasts four hours of new content with him hosting daily, and he's vowed to leave filmmaking after his next movie to focus on that venue. He's a nerd's nerd, writing comics when he's not making movies, and always makes for a hilarious panel.

8:30-11:30: The Comic-Con International Masquerade

The grand ball of Comic-Con, where the cosplayers who spend all year putting together elaborate costumes finally get the chance to parade them before the public, with complex presentation schemes that end up being almost mini-plays. It's like the school talent show for mostly grownups. This is immediately followed in the Sail Pavilion by an after-party/nerd prom where nerds try to dance, which is always an exhilarating/hilarious experience. (I saw someone dancing last year shirtless but with their mascot head still on.)

9:30-10:30: FX Pilot Sneak Peek Screening

Well, there was going to be some sort of mystery sneak peek of an FX pilot, and rumors said it might be "Powers," a new show shooting based on a comic book about the human cops in a superhero world written by acclaimed writer Brian Michael Bendis. But, 25 minutes before writing this, it got canceled before the secret was even out of the bag. Will something else take its place? Will the panel be moved? Stay tuned!

Sunday, July 24

10-11: Glee

So there's this thing called Glee. Have you heard of it? Uh, me either. But apparently they're going to be showing a sneak peek of the new Glee 3D concert movie with the stars of the show there as well. (Oh boy oh boy I can't wait!)

11:45-12:45: One-on-One with Castle Star Nathan Fillion

They used to do a Castle panel, but then they realized that people really really like Nathan Fillion. He's become a bit of a geek idol, so expect to have to step around some fainting fangirls. And fanboys. He's a great speaker and this should be a lot of fun.

4-5: Buffy the Musical

What's become a modern Comic-Con tradition, the con closes with a giant group singalong to the musical episode of Joss Whedon's Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The fans yell back at the screen in a raucous Rocky Horror Picture Show-like atmosphere. It's being kicked up to Hall H this year for the first time, allowing even more fans to sing their hearts out. (I may be one of these fans.)

Whew! So, best of luck everyone! Tune in next week for a look at some highlights and a photo gallery of the sights of Comic-Con. You can also see a photo gallery of last year's Comic-Con below and some other fun stuff down below. Be safe, have fun, and hope to see you there!

Photos by Mike Roe